Altior is now joint-favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival after resuming winning ways in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
Nicky Henderson’s star has won the Grade 1 feature contest on day two of tyje four-day extravaganza for the last two seasons and is a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival overall having also captured the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Akle Trophy.
Doubts about whether the 10-year-old was as good as ever were raised when his record breaking 19-race winning run had come to an end against Cyrname at Ascot in November when stepped up in trip.
Altior subsequently missed an outing at Christmas with an abscess, but was backed off the boards and sent off the 1/3 favourite when landing the Game Spirit for a third time.
His legion of supporters had a few anxious moments, however, as he jumped big and lost ground at a couple of fences and hit his now customary flat spot approaching the final fence.
At that point, the pace setting Dynamite Dollars was just be9ng to feel the pinch following a lengthy lay off. But that was not the case for Altior‘s old rival Sceau Royal who appeared to be cruising.
Nico de Boinville then had to get serious on Altior, but after a good jump at the last the turbo kicked in and he forged clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths from Alan King’s charge.
Bookmakers were quick to cut him across the board to retain his Queen Mother Crown, and Altior is now 9/4 with Coral – the same price as Philip Hobbs’ rapidly improving stable star Defi Du Seuil.
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”The gears are still there”
Henderson said: “We’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but we’re getting there. He was keen early and enjoying himself. He took a blow just before the second-last, but what I really liked was the way he put it to bed – the gears are still there.
“He’s only in one race at Cheltenham, so we don’t have to question what we are doing. There is improvement to come and Nico said he will come on a lot for it. As much as anything it will have done his confidence the world of good.
“It was not nice at Ascot and it took a lot of getting over to be honest with you, and Nico said today would have done him the world of good. His jumping and everything just gained in confidence all the way. It was just a matter of when he pressed the button and let him go and he was good.
“We know what we have got to do between now and Cheltenham, just keep the ball rolling. He takes plenty of work, he has had a nice race it has done him the world of good.”
Whilst Altior ultimately got the job done and is one of the best two-mile chasers seen in along time, he appears to have reached his peak and is set to face to up and coming young chasers in Defi Du Seuil and Willie Mullins Chacun Pour Soi in the Queen Mother.
It promises to be the hottest renewal of the 2m contest for many a year, so he will after be at his brilliant best to land the spoils yet again.
That is obviously not out of the question, but I personally feel that he could be vulnerable at this stage of his career. For me, Defi Du Seuil should arguably be clear favourite and very much remains the one they all have to beat.
Festival target undecided for exciting Chantry House
Earlier on the card, Henderson’s hugely exciting Chantry House further enhanced his Cheltenham Festival claims with an impressive success in the 2m novices’ hurdle.
The six-year-old, who carries the famous green and gold hoops of leading Irish owner JP McManus, followed up his debut triumph over hurdles at Cheltenham with a facile success under a penalty.
After travelling ominously well throughout under a confident Barry Geraghty, the 8/15 favourite cruised through to join long-time leader Manvers House after the last.
Geraghty then sat motionless for much of the run-in, but when he did finally push the button the response was instant and Chantry House quickened clear to win easily bt 4 1/2 lengths.
It was a most taking success and I think that he is the real deal and one to keep firmly onside.
Henderson said: “Barry said he was good and everyone is happy. He is a smart horse. He was just very green when he won at Cheltenham, but that was a while ago.
“Barry says he races very sweetly, kindly and gently. He is not aggressive in any way. He travels away, you press the button and it works. You have got to be pleased with what he did, he came away nicely. He is very straightforward.”
However, the Seven Barrows handler was not commit to which race out of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle that Chantry House would contest at the Cheltenham Festival.
He is a 10/1 shot with William Hill for the Supreme, whilst Coral go 14/1 about him for the Ballymore. To me, Chantry House has Supreme written all over him and McManus likes to have a live contender for the traditional curtain-raiser. If he does go down that route he looks a massive player.